Nellie Bly manages to circumnavigate the globe in her targeted time with only a little piece of hand luggage, a custom-made dress, and the endless financial support of the World newspaper. They do cheat a little by putting on a special express train to get her across the United States. I thought this book was charming, and aside from the dull clang when Bly uses terms now considered racist, I found her quite open-minded for a Western traveller. She is thrilled by things like curry and catamarans, and can usually be depended on not to downplay things she sees because they are foreign.
At the same time, some of the things she cites as alien are just bizarre. For example she describes an Egyptian child held to its mother’s side, holding on like a monkey on a tree. Now, potential racism aside, surely that’s a hip carry? How can she not ever have seen a woman (or man) perform a hip carry before? That’s the bit that’s interesting with Bly herself: some of the things she claims to have never seen before are just so ubiquitous that it’s unbelievable that she could state she has not seen them in her normal life.
There’s also the ambiguity of her “confirmed spinster” status. She takes a great deal of time to discuss the beauty of the women around her. She notes her temptation to return Mrs Verne’s French greeting, of pecks on her cheeks, with a proper American smooch. Is she subtly signalling an inclination, or is this again part of the alieness of historical people?
I thought the Librivox version of this was fantastic and congratulate the reader. It’s based on a free e-text at Open Library.
This review originally appeared on book coasters